Long before the government woke up to the need to preserve monuments and historical artefacts associated with Old Tehri, a group of local historians, teachers, housewives and journalists in New Tehri, Uttaranchal, came together for a common cause.
With the Tehri dam under construction, the quaint old town was being submerged. “Government officials had to meet the deadline of dam reconstruction and see to the rehabilitation process,” says Mahipal Singh Negi, a local historian. “Consequently, no steps were taken to preserve things with historical significance.”
The locals got together and formed an organisation known as the Himalayan Food, Art and Culture Trust (HIMFACT). “Since we were not authorised to preserve the items on a large scale, we could only do video-filming and digital photography,” says Negi, one of the founder members.
Tehri finds mention in the Kedar khand of the Skandh Puran. Says HIMFACT member, VN Dobhal, “Ancient scriptures dating back to the 17th and 18th century, stone carvings of Rajasthan, a special kind of wood used in building houses known as ‘Devdar ki lakdi’, a bell tower as a memoir of Queen Victoria’s visit to India, are some of the things which have a historical significance and should have been preserved,” says Dobhal.
When Old Tehri was being submerged, locals collected all that they could. The government has now come forth. “It has allotted us some rooms in a temple compound to set up a museum. We hope to establish it by May this year,” says Negi.
“To start with, the museum will have its own library and photo gallery. We will stock documents of the 17th and 18th century. These include hand-written letters and documents, signed by the kings and queens. We also have almost 50 pandulipiyan (ancient Hindu scriptures). Traditional architecture (wood engravings etc) will also be displayed,” says Negi.